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Chargers make Derwin James NFL’s highest-paid safety

Chargers safety Derwin James last season became the eighth player and first defensive back since 2000 to have more than 100 tackles (118) after being sidelined the previous year.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Derwin James signed a four-year, $76.5 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Chargers Wednesday morning, making him the NFL’s highest-paid safety.

The deal includes $42 million in guaranteed salary. James is going into his fifth season and was on the field when the Chargers began two days of joint practices with the Cowboys. He did not participate in the first two weeks of practice and took part only in walkthroughs as the sides worked on an extension.

James’s deal eclipses the four-year, $72.98 million extension Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick signed in June. That included $36 million in guaranteed salary.

The Chargers have spent nearly $112 million in guaranteed salaries since the end of last season to improve a defense that was 23rd overall and near the bottom in key categories, including run defense, third-down conversions, and points allowed after halftime.

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James — the defensive signal-caller in the huddle — will be counted on as the leader of a unit that made significant upgrades over the offseason. Los Angeles signed cornerback J.C. Jackson, defensive linemen Sebastian Jones-Day, Austin Johnson, and Morgan Fox, and edge rusher Kyle Van Noy, along with trading for linebacker Khalil Mack.

“I don’t look at Derwin as a safety. I look at Derwin as an impact player. I think the reason why, if you were just looking at him as safety, that wouldn’t be doing Derwin justice,” coach Brandon Staley said on Tuesday.

James was an All-Pro selection as a rookie before being derailed the next two seasons because of injuries during training camp. A broken foot limited him to five games in 2019, and he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2020.

Last season James bounced back and reclaimed his spot as one of the top safeties in the league. He was the eighth player and first defensive back since 2000 to have more than 100 tackles (118) after being sidelined the previous year.

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Burrow gaining strength

Joe Burrow is trying to pack on the pounds, gaining back the weight he lost after having surgery to remove his ruptured appendix three weeks ago.

The Bengals quarterback won’t say how much he lost, but the pounds are coming back, along with the strength and mobility he had before the July 26 procedure.

The goal is for Burrow to be healthy for the regular-season opener against AFC North rival Pittsburgh in 3½ weeks.

Can Burrow be ready for the regular-season opener?Aaron Doster/Associated Press

“I’m getting exponentially better each day,” Burrow said Wednesday in his first availability with reporters since the surgery. “Each day that I’m in the weight room, each day that I’m on the field I’m feeling stronger and stronger, so by Game 1 I’ll be feeling great.”

Burrow began participating in training camp on Sunday, threw passes in 7-on-7 drills and was set to work in 11-on-11 drills on Wednesday. Of course, defensive players will have to keep their hands off the valuable quarterback. The Bengals want to keep him off the ground as long as possible.

“The more I’ve done each day, the better I felt the next day. That’s kind of how it’s always gone to me,” he said. “Just getting my abs and my core reengaged. When they cut into you and do all that stuff, your core is going to lose some muscle and strength. Just working to get that back.”

Don’t expect to see Burrow play in the two remaining preseason games. Too big a risk. In fact, few if any Bengals starters are expected to play in the next one, against the Giants on Sunday.

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Jaguars release ex-Patriot Brown

Brown was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2015.John Raoux/Associated Press

Coming off a career year and still well shy of his 30th birthday, Malcom Brown should be able to help an NFL team this season. It just won’t be Jacksonville. The Jaguars released the former Patriots defensive tackle, a move that will save the franchise $3 million in 2022. The decision had little to do with finances and more to do with others at the position. The 28-year-old Brown, the 32nd overall pick in the 2015 draft, had fallen well behind starting nose tackle DaVon Hamilton, who’s been one of the camp surprises, and had seemingly lost whatever edge he had on second-year backup Jay Tufele. So Brown became expendable, especially since the Jaguars upgraded their defensive front by drafting pass rusher Travon Walker and signing defensive linemen Foley Fatukasi and Arden Key in free agency. Brown was entering the final year of a two-year, $11 million deal with Jacksonville. He was scheduled to count $7.5 million against the salary cap this season. Instead, he will cost $4.5 million in dead money … After catching COVID-19 and staying home for five days in line with the current guidelines, quarterback Kirk Cousins returned to practice with the Vikings for their first of two joint sessions with the visiting 49ers. Though Cousins has said throughout the offseason that he can’t afford to miss any on-field repetitions as he continues to soak up new coach Kevin O’Connell’s offense, the timing of his latest quarantine was such that he only missed one full-speed practice last Thursday. Cousins played crisply during the full-team drills against San Francisco’s defense, even uncharacteristically punctuating his catch phrase — “You like that?” — with an expletive after a completion to Adam Thielen … Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones, starting wide receiver Mecole Hardman, and backup running back Jerick McKinnon left training camp early Wednesday as nagging injuries continued to mount for the Chiefs. Jones left after about 10 minutes with a sore back, while Hardman, who is being counted upon to help overcome the loss of Tyreek Hill, hurt his groin while going up for a catch in the end zone. McKinnon left with a hamstring injury … Super Bowl MVP Chuck Howley and All-Pro defenders Joe Klecko and Ken Riley are finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2023. The defenders who starred in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s were announced as the three senior candidates for next year’s Hall of Fame class from a list of 12 semifinalists. They will get into the Hall if they are supported by at least 80 percent of voters next January.

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